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SOURCE: wgntv.com
BY AMY RUTLEDGE
WAUKEGAN — Cellphones, computers and storage devices get smaller and thus easier to hide every day, so law enforcement is using a unique tool to turn up digital evidence: electronics sniffing dogs.

Browser is a sweet, energetic, two-year-old English lab whose exceptionally rare skill set was born out of failure.

“He was originally trained to be a service dog but flunked out of service school,” handler Carol Gudbrandsen said. “When Browser sees other dogs, he barks and he pulls; that doesn’t work real well if you’re on crutches or something.”

Luckily, Browser was uniquely suited for a different line of work as a digital evidence dog. Working out of the Lake County State Attorney’s Office, he’s one of less than two dozen dogs in the country capable of sniffing out a chemical compound that’s baked onto the circuitry in electronics.

“He can find cellphones, computers, flash drives, USBs, sometimes he hits on remotes depending on what’s in them,” Gudbrandsen said.

Unlike other detection dogs, which smell their disciplines from a greater distance, Browser has to be pretty close to an item to pick up its scent. Still, Browser’s beak can sniff out the smallest pieces of digital evidence, even in some of the stinkiest of situations.

“He found an SD card buried in three feet of dirty laundry, he has found small flash drives buried in garbage cans,” Gudbrandsen said. “The one he found buried in the laundry was a micro SD card, you’re talking the size of your pinky fingernail.”

These tiny pieces of evidence can hold big clues that make or break cases. As a cyber crimes forensic analyst, Carol and Browser work on the Internet Crimes Against Children task force, which handles child pornography and other predatory cases.

“When we go out to a suspect’s house for example, these individuals like to hold on to any of those images cause they’re very hard to get,” Gudbrandsen said. “They will hide flash drives and tablets, SD cards, all over their house, in their vehicle, and we need to be able to find those.”

In the case of Subway pitchman Jared Fogel’s 2015 arrest in Indiana, an evidence recovery dog named Bear found the crucial thumb drive which helped convict Fogel on child pornography charges. The company which trained Bear, Jordan Detection K9, also trained Browser.

Carol keeps Browser’s training up twice a day every day. They are a busy duo as they get called out to help municipalities across the state on everything from search warrants to jail searches and investigations.

And as they try to stay one step ahead of criminal minds, Browser helps to ease Carol’s.

“I look at a lot of very graphic images every single day, and it’s nice, Browser kind of knows when to come over and he’ll sit next to me and put his head on my lap and look up, he can always sense when I need him,” Gudbrandsen said.

Despite the small number of these dogs out there, Illinois has a second one on the case. Cache has been working out of Will County since 2016.